One of the historic clubs in Russian football, Rubin Kazan have experienced a rather tumultuous decline in recent times. The club recorded its best-ever performance in Europe in the 2009-10 season when it beat Pep Guardiola's all-conquering Barcelona.
Rubin Kazan were the best club in Russia at the end of the last decade, landing two Russian Premiership League titles under the tutelage of Kurban Berdyev. Even till 2013-14, the club competed in the Europa League despite having underwhelming domestic league seasons.
Six years later, the club is struggling to stay afloat and relevant in rapidly changing times.
Rubin Kazan's fall from grace
So what has befallen one of Russia's successful clubs in the last decade?
First and foremost, as the story goes, managers often have an impact on a team, something that was no different with Rubin Kazan as well. The club appointed Berdyev as its head coach in 2001, and more importantly, gave him enough time to build a legacy.
Rubin Kazan got promoted to the Russian First Division the next season, which kickstarted a successful period for the club, with Kazan finishing third in their debut Russian Premiership League season.
The club, sponsored by the local government of the Republic of Tatarstan, never had problems with their finances. In their first year in the Russian Premier League , Rubin Kazan succeeded in landing quality foreign players like Macbeth Sibaya and Alejandro Dominguez.
Rubin Kazan's success in the Russian top flight - they won two league titles - meant their regular participation in the Champions League, which allowed the club to retain its top players.
However, Berdyev's dismissal in 2013 sounded the death knell for the club. Rubin Kazan's domestic performances plummeted, with the club finishing in the bottom six every season since 2015-16. Failure to qualify for Europe massively hurt the club's finances.
Rubin Kazan went through four managers since Berdyev's departure till the end of the 2016-17 season. The dwindling finances of the club meant that its ownership changed hands at the end of 2016 from the local government of Tatarstan to the TAIF, a Tatar-American investment firm.
While the 2017-18 season started well for Rubin Kazan, with Berydev re-appointed as the manager and Sardar Azmoun arriving, things began to go awry mid-season. By December 2017, it became known that Rubin Kazan hadn't paid its players for four months. An enormous €29 million debt further exacerbated the situation in this regard for Rubin Kazan.
To address the situation, TAIF decided to pursue the policy of player sales in the winter, along with terminating other contracts. Unfortunately, it did not turn out as well as the Rubin Kazan management would have hoped for.
Except for leading striker Jonathas, the club failed to record substantial revenue through player sales. Many top clubs showed little interest in acquiring Rubin Kazan's players.
It forced the club to retain some of its highest-earning players, who struggled to make it to the first team. Ruben Rochina was one of them, who remained one of the best-paid in the league despite barely getting enough game-time.
Even Kuban Berdyev failed to transform the fortunes of Rubin Kazan during his second stint at the club. While the club started well in August with just two defeats in five games, a 6-0 loss to Anzhi Makhachkala seemed to open the floodgates.
For Berdyev, who had built a reputation for creating a team of workhorses with defensive guile, times were incredibly hard. The players rarely looked motivated and seldom gave their best. Unpaid salaries and mismanagement further hurt the club as they escaped a close relegation battle. With only nine wins from 30 games, Rubin Kazan recorded its worst-ever top-flight season.
With the club fighting to regain its lost glory amidst mounting obstacles, the road ahead for Rubin Kazan is a challenging one. Dynamo Moscow, Krasnodar and Rostov have all emerged as significantly potent teams in the Russian top division.
Zenit St. Petersburg and Lokomotiv Moscow have been ruling the Russian league for the last five years while Kazan are struggling for a top-ten finish. However, with former Russia and CSKA Moscow boss Leonid Slutsky back at the helm of Rubin Kazan, the club will hope for a better finish on the domestic front.